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5 things to know about public health

Never in recent memory has public health felt so relevant as it has the past three years, when fears of the COVID-19 pandemic—and debates about appropriate measures to contain it—gripped national attention. But, even as normalcy returns, public health concerns remain important in every facet of our lives. 

At Case Western Reserve University, the Master of Public Health (MPH) program helps prepare students for careers that keep society as a whole safe and well—and to push for even better conditions for all. 

Headshot of Daniel Tisch
Daniel Tisch

Public health is everywhere.

“It’s an essential consideration in everything we do: from hospital design to governmental policy, to restaurant practices to bus routes. It’s about public safety, well-being, health and wellness. It’s about you and me, our families, our communities,” said Daniel Tisch, director of the MPH program.

National Public Health Week, which occurs the first week of April, recognizes the myriad ways public-health professionals make a difference. To learn more about the public health field, The Daily spoke with Tisch.

Read on to hear Tisch’s insights on how public health impacts your life.

1. Advances in public health increase lifespans and wellbeing.

Most of the gains in lifespan achieved in the 20th century did not come from medical progress, but from public health advances. Between 1900 and 1999, the average lifespan in the United States increased by more than 30 years, with 25 of these years attributable to advances in public health. These public health achievements include reducing infectious disease through vaccines, cleaner air and water, improved sanitation and food safety, safer environments, decreased tobacco use, family planning, motor vehicle safety, fewer job injuries, and improvements in maternal and child health. 

The progress has continued into the 21st century with the elimination of malaria in 15 countries, new vaccine technologies, and a renewed focus on health equity. Yet we still have more work to do: almost half of the current health burden in the U.S. is attributable to preventable risk factors. The field of public health addresses these factors to achieve health for all.

2. Public health is in everything. 

Public health is an interdisciplinary field that protects the health of people and the communities [in which] we live, learn, work and play. Public health is about air, water, science, justice, climate, hope, healing, public good, nutrition, fitness, preparedness, advocacy, surveillance, safety, mutual empowerment, vaccination and more. The achievements, challenges, and work of public health surround us in our daily lives. 

While public health is in everything, it is not the only thing. It aligns science and practice with multidisciplinary and community collaboration. Public health is a complex, professional field addressing the big questions in our world today.

3. Public health matters.

When public health is working, people don’t see it. The news can’t highlight epidemics that don’t happen! As a result, the daily work of public health underpinning this success can be missed.  

It is a tragic irony that public health is at the greatest risk of financial cuts, program closures and workforce reductions when it is having the most impact. Our society must move away from boom-bust cycles: with COVID-19 receding from people’s minds, it is crucial that we rebuild and reinvest in our public health workforce to address inequities and prevent future public health emergencies.

4. Public health connects us all.

It doesn’t matter which political party, religion, belief system or economic strata to which we belong.  People need and expect excellent public health. This is especially true during a public health crisis. Our families, our communities, our country and ourselves depend on an effective public health response. This response depends on a strong public health infrastructure, education, trust in science and clear communication. Public health seeks to unite people and communities in the interest of health improvement for all.

5. There has never been a greater need for public health leaders than our time in history.

The number of converging public health crises can feel overwhelming, from pandemics, to violence, to racism, to contaminated water, to maternal and infant mortality, to climate change. There is a path forward: public health training provides professional skills for fulfilling careers that respond to the needs of our communities and world. 

The demand for public health leaders is urgent: a recent national report estimated that state and local public health departments need an 80% increase in their workforce to provide a minimum set of public health services. 

Training leaders is what we do at CWRU. Across Cleveland, across the country, and across the world, our alumni are realizing the mission of the CWRU Master of Public Health program: leading health improvement, advancing health equity and creating new knowledge through the synthesis of innovative research, education, and community partnerships. We welcome you to join us if public health calls to you.

Want to contribute to the mission of public health? The university’s Master of Public Health program offers full- and part-time options, and faculty and staff can use the tuition waiver benefit  to cover the costs. The program also hosts dual-degree opportunities with 10 affiliated professional and graduate degrees at the university and undergraduate students can pursue the graduate program through Integrated Graduate Studies. Learn more about the Master of Public Health program.